Review: Slam Dunk 2017 – Midlands and North

This mammoth review from Pit Troll really reflects the size of Slam Dunk and it’s amazing how they can shift this many bands around in three days! Apologies for the lack of photos, but we just didn’t have a shutterbug free over that weekend – Mosh

I very much enjoyed last year’s Slam Dunk Festival. I got to travel to a new place, never a bad thing in my book. I watched some pretty amazing bands and it was another game changer for the small but ever growing following that the Pit Troll has been amassing since 2012. I’m now recognised UK wide as part of the metal scene rather than just local gigs in Glasgow. This is all thanks to the opportunities the Moshville Times have created. I hope at least a few of the people reading this are motivated to indulge in writing as a hobby or possibly even a job.

As soon as the requests for accreditation for Slam Dunk were open this year I was frequently bugging the editor until I finally got the news that I was approved for Leeds again. Leeds was the obvious choice as it is the closest in distance to Scotland and I would already have prior knowledge of the site layout, making viewing the bands on my list a good bit easier.

This year managed to yield an unexpected bonus in the form of an unscheduled day off on the Saturday which I didn’t want to waste. After some very rough draft logistical calculations in my head I submitted a request to Siobhan from Zeitgeist to be accredited for Slam Dunk Midlands, which much to my delight was approved. 2017 was now going to be bigger and better.

The journey from Scotland to Birmingham felt like forever between the searing summer sun (us northerners are not used to these high temperatures), the traffic jams and the rather cramped conditions of my Nissan Almera. I drove a Vauxhall Insignia to Slam Dunk last year and it’s fair to say it had a great deal more legroom for giants, unfortunately it’s also now in the boneyard.

After finally getting checked in to my hotel, I had a quick scan through the ‘This Is Birmingham’ guide and decided to check out the bright lights of Brum. I won’t drone on about this too much as I know everyone wants to know about the music but indulge me for a second when I tell you one of the huge plus points about travelling is you will come across experiences that are hard to find anywhere else.

Broad Street in Birmingham can be summed up in one word – MADNESS. There is a tiny minority of places I have been in the world that I could compare it to. You might think I sound crazy but the first place that popped in my mind is the famous Las Vegas Strip. Broad Street may not have the same type of glitz, glamour or neon lights as the strip but it has the same energy, the same volatile atmosphere and the same hype all contained on an even shorter stretch of road. As I said I won’t talk about that part of my trip too much but as a final tip about Birmingham nightlife if you’re ever down that way and are looking for some cool places where rockers and metalheads hang out then checkout Scruffy Murphys and The Hammer And Anvil.

After resting up I set off for the N.E.C eagerly anticipating what my first experience of a Brummie metal crowd was going to be like. Being in the hometown of the Godfather Of Heavy Metal himself, Mr. Ozzy Osbourne, was a big reassurance.

What was also reassuring but indeed an incredibly harsh reminder of the current climate was the ring of steel that greeted visitors upon their arrival to the festival entrance. In my current employment, I’m very used to being part of security cordons for all manner of events but what I’m not used too is arriving at a gig and seeing a line of police vans, police dogs and teams of officers who were packing. I’m not just talking pistols either, I’m talking the big guns. You would literally have to have had a death wish to want to turn up and start some s**t there that day.

I heard a fair few people remark throughout the event about how intimidating they found this almost martial law-like presence but I knew the police were there for our protection. Watching how the armed officers conducted themselves posing for a few pictures, trying their best to not appear stand offish, it was blinding obvious they had no interest in harassing anyone and would sooner be somewhere else if they could be.

I spent the first hour or so finding my bearings, sussing out the locations for all the different stages which wasn’t the easiest of tasks given the size of the N.E.C site. Imaginary trail of breadcrumbs placed it was finally time for my first band of the day, Japan’s premier trance fused with metal band, Crossfaith.

Before the band even properly took to the stage the audience were already beginning to lose their minds. They were pitting during the soundcheck, having British bulldog competitions with people on each other’s shoulders and even attempting to construct a human pyramid so when the lights went and the opening notes of ‘System X’ began to play the crowd were already a bunch of rabid maniacs. Neither Crossfaith nor Pit Troll had to work very hard to keep the energy levels high throughout the entire set. Brummies, you have found a special place in my heart for that display of passion.

One of the absolute delights of festival lineups is very often you will get guest vocals in the flesh rather than just as a bonus on a band’s latest album. Crossfaith took full advantage of Beartooth being on the same bill and brought Caleb Shomo out for a storming performance of ‘Ghost In The Mirror’.

Hot, sweaty and buzzed from a fine display of Japanese metalcore I had a short lunch break before stepping into the arena again ready for battle with Bury Tomorrow, this year’s surprise guests. In my opinion they’re truly the best of British metalcore right now. It’s not just that they make great music, the respect they have for their fans is inspirational. Opening with ‘Man On Fire’ from their Runes album the arena floor was a tidal wave of madness that even Maximus Meridius himself would have struggled to withstand.

During ‘Lionheart’ I left the crowd and addressed an issue that I caught a glimpse of during Crossfaith’s set, that issue being security’s complete ineptitude in dealing with the steady flow of crowd surfers. Bury Tomorrow vocalist Dani Bates asked for a thousand people over the barrier and I knew if their previous efforts were anything to go by, security was going to struggle to manage that safely. I stepped behind the barrier without much argument from the pit bosses and began catching bodies. When I saw how the pit crew were operating up close, I was truly appalled. It’s worth noting that I have a few years’ experience working in this area with Showsec and a company called Specialized Security prior to that. I’m now in the midst of constructing a huge complaint to the security company with a strong recommendation that they train their staff properly before somebody gets hurt.

Bury Tomorrow had to cut their stage time drastically short due to technical issues and whilst that was obviously upsetting for their large number of diehard fans present, as I previously mentioned they do not take that adulation for granted and shortly after they fulfilled a promise to meet and greet fans by their merch stand. I spoke with Dani there and asked him if he had witnessed what had went on with security and me having to step in. Even more disturbing than my findings, he told me he had seen security staff grabbing a crowd surfer by the throat as they came over the barrier. It seems to me that rather than being concerned with the safety of crowd surfers certain security members would rather deter them with strongarm tactics. Dani has pledged his support to my complaint so hopefully with his influence as an artist behind it something will be done.

Enough negativity, let me tell you about the magnitude of mental that was Beartooth’s set. Just like last December, right from the offset Caleb told the audience what he expected of them. “You’re gonna jump, you’re gonna mosh, you’re gonna crowd surf and you are going to bang your heads”. Birmingham did all of that in volumes, Leeds did too but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

In a move that surprised everybody including me, ‘Body Bag’ which is arguably Beartooth’s biggest tune, was second to be played after opening number ‘Aggressive’. That doesn’t mean that after the second song was finished everybody’s enthusiasm started to wane, after all this is a Beartooth set and if you haven’t managed to catch these guys live yet you’ll have no idea of the carnage that these guys can perpetrate.

Speaking of carnage. The last band I managed to catch in Birmingham, thanks to a “no later than midnight” curfew being imposed by my hotel in Leeds, was Stray From The Path. In my Slam Dunk 2017 preview I predicted that SFTP was going to be a riot and that’s exactly what it was. The mosh pits were some of the liveliest I had seen the entire day and for the second time that day I had to step in and help security with crowd surfers after vocalist Drew Dijorio announced they were going to be filming for their new music video and he needed as many people over the barrier as possible. If you were there hopefully you managed to get yourself on film.

I’m verging on turning this review into a novel so I will keep the Leeds part of the review as short and sweet as possible. Line up wise I pretty much saw exactly the same bands as the day before which wasn’t what I intended but a lot of Slam Dunkers in Leeds remembered me from last year and were keen to rock out with me again and I didn’t want to disappoint.

There were a few minor differences in Leeds, the most noteworthy of which being security which was run by Showsec meaning it was better organised and pit staff were better trained. I managed to catch some of the main stage’s opening artist Andrew McMahon And The Wilderness who seemed oddly placed on the bill been as he only played piano, but when you see a guy in the crowd being told to “Mosh like it’s 2002”, to piano music and he actually makes an attempt to do it, it really does bring a smile to your face. During Crossfaith’s set  I was able to uphold a tradition from Scottish Crossfaith gigs and carried Kenta into the moshpit on my shoulders during their cover of Prodigy’s ‘Omen’. Bury Tomorrow played a full set with no technical issues and still did a meet and greet with fans afterwards. Top lads. Beartooth destroyed the main stage as expected and gave me a shout out. Stray From The Path was again an absolute riot.

Having no curfew meant I was actually able to go check out Enter Shikari in Leeds but much to my dismay I had to withdraw myself from the action as it was getting dangerous. It was a full house for Shikari and a boisterous crowd were producing a lot of lateral sway which was causing me and my size to nearly tip people over. I deemed I was presenting a real risk to people so retreated to watch the band from the guest area. Not where I wanted to be but safety is a subject I take seriously, believe that or not.

So… Slam Dunk over for another year. I decided against the after party in Leeds University and began the dark and lonely drive back to Scotland but with two days’ worth of memories, lots of new followers and another destination added to the travel book, I really didn’t have a reason to be glum.

Till next year Slam Dunk!

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